Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels. 

Ethan: Here’s an easy one for you. Can you and I join hands and agree that women should be given the same opportunities as men to achieve the American dream?

Phil: Seriously? I assume you are referencing the Equal Rights Amendment now in front of the Maine Legislature. This may surprise you, but I support Rep. Lois Reckitt’s constitutional amendment.

Ethan: Wow. There’s the Phil I know and love! In this Trump era, sometimes I worry that the old Yankee Republican I started working with 12 years ago has disappeared.

Phil: Still here. You just assume all Republicans think like Donald Trump. We actually have our own thoughts, yet share the philosophy of a smaller, focused government, where the rights of individuals are respected by our government. Which is why I support the ERA.

Ethan: Since it will be obvious to readers why a progressive like me supports such a bill, and since almost all Democrats will end up voting for it, tell me more about why you think Republicans should vote yes.

Phil: May I remind you, when the original ERA was proposed it was strongly supported by Republicans, and was even in the national party platform.

Ethan: True, in 1971 and 1972 the ERA passed the U.S. House 354-24 and the U.S. Senate 84-8. Included in those totals were 174 Republicans who voted yes. Republican President Richard Nixon then publicly called for its passage by the states. But then … Phyllis Schlafley and Ronald Reagan launched the culture wars that still divide America today.

Phil: My support starts with the simplicity of the constitutional amendment language: “Equality of rights under the law may not be denied or abridged by the State or any political subdivision of the State based on the sex of an individual.” It is clear, not imbued with constituency demands, and it can’t be manipulated by future legislatures.

Ethan: Not to mention, it is needed. The one thing both Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg agreed on is that the U.S. Constitution does not protect against discrimination based on sex. And since Congress is unlikely to get this done, our state should at least ensure that women are treated equally within our borders.

Phil: And for those who believe our states should be the ones deciding these issues, it’s a no-brainer. 

Ethan: I don’t think the states should have to be deciding these issues, but amen.

Phil: In the end, I support the ERA for the the same reasons I supported the non-discrimination bill against firing people who are LBGTQ: America is about equal opportunity. And if the government has any role to play in our lives, it’s to protect people from being judged for anything other than their character.

Ethan: No concerns about the government telling businesses who they can and can’t hire?

Phil: Nope. The amendment, as written, makes clear only one thing: you may not discriminate based on sex. It doesn’t say you have to hire, accommodate, or lend money to anyone based on sex. It simply says you cannot refuse to hire, lend to, or house someone because they are a woman (or a man). That creates a level playing field.

Ethan: I sure wish you were serving in the Legislature these days. They need more like you. 

Phil: You may love me today, but experience tells me that will likely change by next week.

Ethan: Hey, while we’re in this kumbaya moment, could I interest you in spending the $800 million surplus on a few social programs I know of?

Phil: Quicker than I thought …